Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Hopes

As the school lunches wind down to a complete halt I have been thinking about what to do to keep up with the conversation of changing and advocating for better school lunches.

This week I met with Avis Gold Richards, Executive Producer and Director of a new documentary exploring the consequences of the junk food culture epidemic. What are children munching on? Lunch, A film by Avis Richards, investigates and interviews parents, teachers, nutritionists, students within the Baltimore school district. Its poignant and relevant. There are some other exciting things happening for bird's nest production, like a TV series, so stay tuned for more details.

Also, at the end of this week Montclair's Health and Wellness Partnership organizers are coming out to meet with us here in Hoboken. My hope is to learn from another school district and to figure out how our very own Health and Wellness Committee can function within our town. I am very grateful for their openness and willingness to share information! Thank you Montclair school district!

There are some other partnerships I am working on and will let you know when plans a little more firm.

School lunch Wednesday 6/16: Turkey Wrap

The menu reads as follows: Turkey Wrap, Lettuce & Tomato, Broccoli, Fruit

What they got: Turkey wrap with lettuce, tomato and cheese, an apple and milk

What they did not get was the broccoli.

This weeks menu reads with sandwiches everyday. I'm assuming this is because it's the last week of school for our district before summer break. 

Not a very appetizing's all in the presentation though, had the wraps been cut in half and offered with apple and milk they probably would have been received a more favorably! The kids were rolling the contents out - perfect cause at this point I wanted to know what was inside.

American cheese, turkey, some lettuce and possibly a few slices of tomato, although I could not see it. Components I am not crazy about: tortilla wrap, processed cheese and the turkey lunch meat - loaded with fat, sodium and nitrites, and in my opinion not fit for a child.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

School Lunch Wednesday 6/8: Twin Taco

The menu reads as follows: Twin Taco, Turkey Taco Meat, Cheddar Cheese, Lettuce & Salsa, Fruit.

What they got: Two hard-shell tacos, turkey meat, cheddar cheese, smooth (?) salsa, lettuce w/tomato and a banana

Another twin taco meal with pre-seasoned turkey taco meat. I'm still not sure about this one but I do know I would feel a whole lot more comfortable if I knew they were using fresh ground turkey instead of the pre-packaged stuff.

Vegetables are almost non-existent (I don't count lettuce as a vegetable), but make the turkey from scratch and you can add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, peppers or whatever you feel like or have on hand. Nutritionally this meal can't possibly satisfy a growing body. If you are a nutritionist out there and think otherwise, please feel free to comment and inform me. The banana by far is the most nutritionally packed and is  a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin B6.

As for the rest of meal...I think we can do better! 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

School lunch Tuesday 6/8: Baked BBQ Chicken

The menu reads as follows: Baked BBQ Chicken, Sweet Potato, Fresh Broccoli, Dinner Roll, Fruit

What they got: Baked BBQ chicken, canned sweet potato, fresh broccoli, a dinner roll and a fresh fruit cup.

Yay! Real chicken! I had given up all hope and resolved Tuesdays to being "processed chicken day". Not so! I must say that our lunches have definitely improved and much effort has been put in to provide fresher ingredients for the kids. They LOVED the drumsticks and with a some encouragement ate the broccoli too. 

But boy, are our kids fussy eaters! What happened? I do not remember being this fussy, neither do I remember my brothers being THAT picky. In fact, I don't recall any of the kids in our family (and there are a lot) being fussy or picky eaters! I mean sure there are certain foods you just don't like, for example my one brother just could not stomach okra and would gag if one actually got in his mouth. Fermented vegetables did that for me, especially cauliflower. I ate it, did I enjoy it and ask for more? Hell no!  

I'd say most kids today eat a very simple diet which is why whenever faced with a new food they scowl and frown and say very adamantly:  "I don't like that!" To which I reply: "have you tried it?", to which they reply : "No, but I don't eat it" and then I reply; "But if you haven't tried it, how do you know you don't like it?". And their answer to that is: "I just don't!"  At this point I feel like busting out a few lines from Dr.Suess's Green Eggs and Ham, so I do. They smile and say "I still don't like it! "  Phew! All this to get a kid to try a piece of broccoli!

At least this time round they served fresh fruit cups, filled with  orange segments, pieces of melon & whole grapes- A nice change to the usual syrupy fruit concoctions, which for the record, I rarely see them eat! But I did see kids going back for second servings of the fresh fruit.  The cups are easy to eat & delicious. Definitely a kid-friendly component!  

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

School lunch Monday 6/7: Cheeseburger on W/W Bun

The menu reads as follows: Cheeseburger on W/W Bun, Veggie Pasta Salad, Fresh Vegetable, Apple

What they got: Cheeseburger on W/W bun, broccoli pasta, fresh carrots and apple.

As far as school lunches go I think this one has good array of components- broccoli, carrots, an apple, some pasta, and then there's the burger. The beef patty scares me the most. After countless  recalls I simply don't trust the FDA. Contaminated beef is finding it's way into supermarkets and schools more frequently it seems. Scientists believe that E.coli is becoming resistant to the antibiotics administered to cows routinely and therefore making its way into our food chain more often.

A piece in the New York Times last year, describes how a 22 year old children's dance instructor, ate a hamburger her mom made her which left her in a coma and when she awoke found herself paralyzed!  Such a tragic story and....

Friday, June 4, 2010

School lunch Thursday 6/3: Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The menu reads as follows: Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Macaroni Salad, Cucumber Slices, Fruit

What they got: Half-baked cheese sandwich, macaroni salad, cucumber slices, an orange and lowfat milk

Grilled cheese....yummm! What kid doesn't like a grilled cheese? Well surprisingly some but not all!

I was very curious to see what the grilled cheese sandwiches looked like or how they were made only because I could not imagine the kitchens grilling hundreds of sandwiches- and they didn't! From what it looks like they warmed or baked the sandwiches for a little time in a convection oven, probably just enough to melt the cheese, but not enough for it to look like its actually been grilled.  The one below is made from the heel of the bread so  it looks toasted/grilled but is not.

The issue with this grilled cheese is that its made with processed american cheese and as we know as soon as anything is processed there is a good chance that its high in sodium AND saturated fat. A typical brand like Kraft American cheese has 250mg of sodium per slice and weighs in at 2.5g of saturated fat. Now, times that by 2 (because it looks like they used at least 2 slices per sandwich), and you have 500mg of sodium or 20% RDA (recommended daily allowance), and 5g of saturated fats or 26% RDA for a diet based on 2000 calories - ALL this in just the cheese!
(These values are based on a 2000 calorie diet)

At this age kids should be eating anything between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day- depending on how active they are. As you can see the above nutritional information raises a red flag. Too much sodium and too much fat.

Here is a quick comparison of American vs. cheddar:

Nutrition Facts for Slice of American
Serving Size 1 serving (19.0 g)

Calories 60

Calories from fat 40

Total Fat                    4.5g              7%
Saturated Fat            2.5g              13%
Cholesterol               15mg             5%
Sodium                      250mg          10%
Total Carbohydrates  1.0g               0%
Sugars                       1.0g
Protein                       3.0g 
Vitamin A 4%  •   Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 20%  • Iron 0%


Nutrition Facts For Cheddar Cheese
Serving Size 1 Cubic inch -  17.0 g

Calories 69
Calories from fat 51

Total Fat                       5.6g         9%
Saturated Fat               3.6g        18%
Polyunsaturated Fat      0.2g
Monounsaturated Fat    1.6g
Cholesterol                  18mg        6%
Sodium                      106mg        4%
Total Carbohydrates      0.2g        0%
Sugars                           0.1g
Protein                           4.2g

Vitamin A 3%        •   Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 12%        • Iron 1%

We can safely say that cheddar contains much less sodium and a little more fat than american. Also, nutritionally is more beneficial because it contains more protein, however, american does contain more calcium.

Given the choice though, I'd opt for the unprocessed cheddar cheese.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

School lunch Wednesday 6/2: Macho Nacho

The menu reads as follows: Crisp Tortilla Rounds, Meat & Cheese, Cilantro Brown Rice, Lettuce & Tomato, Fruit Cocktail

What they got: Crisp tortilla rounds, fake meat and cheese, brown rice, lettuce & tomato, fruit cocktail, juice and lowfat milk.

A lot of different components were offered to the kids today....maybe too many. Not sure the kids really need juice AND a fruit cocktail AND milk.

Of course the thing that bothers me is the Cheez Whiz and the commodity beef. In fact the beef infuriates more than I can even express especially in light of the recent news. 

Here are some of the headlines:

Government Report Finds Dangerous Residues in Meat- Source:

This is totally unacceptable. Why are parents allowing this to happen? Why are our schools not  putting their foot down and saying 'NO! We will NOT feed this to our kids'  Somehow feeding our kids veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals had become okay. 

The activist in me wants to do something radical, like break into the kitchens and destroy all the meat...or I'd like to walk into the kitchens and dump out all the meat products being served on the floor in front of the kids, teachers, cooks and lunch ladies! Yes, drastic! Seems to me drastic times call for drastic measures. When will our government step up and put a stop to this farce of an FDA??

Where do we go from here??

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

School Lunch Tuesday 6/1: Chicken Tenders

The menu reads as follows: Chicken Tenders, Tater Tots, Seasoned Veggie, Wheat Bread, Banana

What they got: Chicken tenders, tater tots, mixed veggie, wheat bread, a pear and lowfat milk

Another processed chicken meal. This is just a chicken nugget in the shape of a tender. I'm happy to see some vegetables and a fresh fruit on the tray. I must tell you that as much as it pains me to say this, the kids really love chicken tenders/nuggets. And while laden with fat and sodium, balancing the meal out with fruit and vegetables is an absolute must. Only problem here is that the kids will just eat the chicken and leave the rest, so there goes any 'balancing' one may have attempted.

Recently, Consumer Reports rated 14 supermarket brands of refrigerated and frozen chicken nuggets — including two chicken-like nuggets made from soy and what they found was that they all came with high sodium and fat content and were low (not poor) on nutritional value. Surprise!

They also warned consumers not to be mislead by the "All Natural" or "Organic" labeling.  My advice is to always read the nutritional facts and ingredients on the back to see if this is what you are looking for.

I came across an article done by MSNBC: The 20 worst kids' foods in America. They dissect and rate the worst meals ranging from pb&j to chinese food and then recommend what your kid could eat instead. Worth a read for sure.

My favorite was the classic grilled cheese sandwich, which won worst kids' sandwich and here is why:
Au Bon Pain Kids' Grilled Cheese
670 calories
41 g fat (25 g saturated)
1,060 mg sodium

You wouldn't even consider feeding your child this if they called it by its real name: an oil sandwich with cheese. So soaked is this sandwich that you'd need to eat 25 strips of cooked bacon to equal the amount of saturated fat found between the two slices. Wait until you get home — in about 5 minutes you can make a pretty mean 300-calorie grilled cheese sandwich.

Eat this instead!
Kids' Macaroni and Cheese
250 calories
14 g fat (9 g saturated)
690 mg sodium
 Wow! Who would have thought.....